Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that the right to know is a fundamental right and it cannot be curtailed by banning information on the Internet. His response came after the apex court asked him to assist in a matter related to banning of pre-natal sex determination advertisements and contents on the Internet.
“There is distinction between information and advertisement. A person out of curiosity wants to know or study some thing. The right to know is a fundamental right and we cannot curtail it,” Rohatgi, who was present in the court room for some other matter, told a bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra. The bench, which sought the AG’s assistance, said, “We cannot curtail free search. The right to know is a fundamental right. If we stop information, then we stop knowledge, then we stop thinking…”
It said that it has to see whether section 22 of the PNDT Act does not go against the Article 19(1)(a) of Constitution which gaurantees the freedom of speech and expression. Section 22 of the Act pertains to prohibition of advertisements relating to pre-natal determination of sex and punishment for its contravention.
Advocate Binu Tamta, appearing for Centre, said that it is difficult to control or supervise the content on the Internet but the stand of the other side is that there should be no advertising. Internet majors Microsoft and Google told the bench that they cannot block the information on the information expressway but they can certainly block the advertisements with regard to pre-natal sex determination under the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act.
The counsel for Google said it will comply with the apex court direction by removing advertisements based on terms linked to gender selection tests but cannot delete the contents with regard to research materials or medical journals. It said that preventive blockage of the content is very difficult and can only be done by curative blockage. The Internet maajors said that if the content with regard to pre-natal sex determination is blocked then entire research materials or journals will get blocked. The bench asked the parties to submit their written submissions and posted the matter for detailed hearing to April 13.
The apex court had on February 16 warned that the declining numbers of the girl child was a “disastrous signal for mankind”, and directed search engines — Google, Yahoo and Microsoft –to set up in-house expert bodies “forthwith” to ensure deletion of materials which went against Indian laws prohibiting pre-natal sex determination. The court was hearing a petition by Sabu Mathew George, a doctor, who is seeking the court’s intervention in view of the falling sex ratio in the country.